While Campbell County Commissioners are supportive of the work that local coal miner David Bauer is doing to build bike trails north of Gillette, they want him to slow down just a bit so that the trails don’t become a point of contention in the future.
Bauer and his organization, Energy Addicts, have mapped out about 15 miles of trails at the Centennial Section, a 640-acre plot of county land north of Gillette, and they have plans for more.
There are three trails right now. Antelope Loop is 2.1 miles and the Red Rock Overlook Trail is 0.7 miles. The Jackalope Loop is about 12 miles.
At the commissioners’ regular meeting Tuesday, Bauer asked the commissioners for permission to put in a gravel parking lot. Right now, the parking lot at Northwest Park has 40 spaces, so the new lot would double the amount of available parking.
The parking lot would be paid for through private dollars and donations, Bauer said.
He also wants to start a youth cycling program in Gillette, for kids from second grade through 12th grade. They would then join the Black Hills Mountain Biking Association and compete with teams from South Dakota.
Bauer foresees use for the trails in all four seasons, from 5Ks in the spring to fat bike races in the winter.
And with the Cowboy State Games coming to Gillette the next three years, Bauer has a number of ideas on what kind of events could be held at the trails, if there were additional parking.
The commissioners weren’t opposed to the proposed parking lot, as long as Bauer talked to the surrounding residents about the impacts.
Gillette College currently leases the land to store the rodeo team’s rough stock horses.
“The horses haven’t been an issue for anyone,” Bauer said. “The horses have been something awesome to look at.”
Although he appreciates Bauer’s enthusiasm, Commissioner Mark Christensen wanted him to slow down, just a little bit.
Christensen has been in favor of leasing the property to Bauer and the Energy Addicts. Bauer said he “absolutely” doesn’t want to do that, and that he would like the trails system to eventually become a county park.
Christensen said with coal revenues expected to decline for the foreseeable future, the county will have to decrease its budget. The last thing he wants to do is put more responsibility on the Parks and Recreation Department when it has to deal with budget cuts.
“I don’t want there to be an issue in the future,” he said. “It’s better to have that conversation now.”
He added that he doesn’t want to create a problem for future commissioners.
“Whoever is here is going to have to figure out how to manage all of this, and in this case, we haven’t had a full discussion about how we’re going to do it,” he said. “We have a loose handshake agreement on who is responsible for what. That’s not going to help anyone.”
“Don’t let the word ‘lease’ scare you,” said Commissioner D.G. Reardon. “The word is in there to protect us from lawsuits.”
There are a number of groups that lease county property, Christensen said, and the lease is at very low annual cost.
“This is a win-win,” Commissioner Rusty Bell said of the trails. “The use it’s having right now is valuable to the community, it’s valuable to the region.”
Christensen said the Energy Addicts can choose to go down one of two paths. It can go the leasing route, which he would prefer. But he was open to Bauer going down another path.
“The other path is, work with Rick (Mansur) to show how this fits into his parks system, our communities. He’s the one at the end of the day who has to get everything done with the money we give him,” he said. “But if it goes down this path, the Parks and Rec board needs to buy in.”
“I think it’s exceptional you guys are doing it this way, because nobody else is,” Christensen said. “They’re all just showing up saying, here’s our request (for money).”
The commissioners told Bauer to come up with short-term and long-term plans for the trails.
“I think there’s a way forward to make this happen,” Bell said. “Let’s make sure everybody in this room is on the same page.”